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Ayden-Grifton clinches third straight conference title

Ayden-Grifton clinches third straight conference title

Ayden-Grifton's Emily Dykes prepares a serve during Tuesday's game against North Lenoir. Photo by William ‘Bud’ Hardy / Neuse News

LA GRANGE — The celebration was subdued, but it could’ve signified what has been routine for Ayden-Grifton volleyball.

The Chargers defeated North Lenoir 25-13, 25-18, 23-25, 25-21 Tuesday, picking up their third consecutive Eastern Carolina 2A Conference regular-season title. Before this streak, Ayden-Grifton (15-5, 10-0) hadn’t won a conference title since 1976, but has gone 33-1 in the EC2A during its three-year span.

“It means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to the girls as well,” Ayden-Grifton coach Linda Bryant said. “We started with the first conference title in 41 years and now we’re trying to keep this streak going. Earlier, I asked the JV team, who dropped the first set, ‘you want to be conference champions (in varsity), right?’ They have to play the same way and they were able to come back and win — we’ve got a great thing here at Ayden-Grifton and we want to keep it going.”

Behind blocks from Paytyn Jones and Kanijah Taylor, North Lenoir (11-8, 5-5) scored the game’s first three points, but consecutive kills from Emily Dykes and two Holly Cannon aces sparked a 10-1 burst to give Ayden-Grifton all the momentum. The Chargers would extend the advantage to 18-6 after Alexia Bryant’s kill, and although Kennedy Sullivan had two straight aces to pull the Hawks within 20-13, Dykes’ kill started a 5-0 run to close out the set.

Ayden-Grifton kept the momentum in the second set with a 7-0 run highlighted by a trio of Cannon aces and two Dykes kills. North Lenoir would get within 10-9, but Ayden-Grifton scored four unanswered to retake control. North Lenoir couldn’t get closer than three points and Aale’Yah Garris’ kill finished off the set.

North Lenoir started the third set on a 4-1 run highlighted by kills from Jones and Taylor, along with a Melanie Gallardo ace, but Ayden-Grifton would use a 13-1 run to go up 18-8. North Lenoir refused to wilt, using a 9-1 spurt to get back into the game, then taking a 23-22 lead after an Emily Oliver ace. The Chargers tied it on the next point, but Reena Parris’ kill put North Lenoir ahead for good as the Hawks picked up the set.

In the fourth set, Ayden-Grifton started on a 9-0 run, including three Dykes kills. North Lenoir was never able to recover, although the Hawks did stave off three match points before succumbing.

“It means a lot to be three-time champions, because not only were we able to stay at that level, we’ve continued to improve,” Garris said.

North Lenoir coach Heather Carson said despite the loss, the team never gave up.

“We fought hard and kept battling,” Carson said. “In the third set on, we were able to get more blocks and tips at the net, attacking the ball better and it helped. We just have to keep improving.”

North Lenoir will host Kinston Thursday while Ayden-Grifton plays Greene Central at home on the same day.

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